Indo-China conflict: A Renegade’s Reading

Part 2: This piece revisits the roles of Mao Zedong, the paramount leader of Chinese communist party and Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in the next one before the Indo-China border war in 1962 amid the Cold War between the USA and USSR. The earlier piece had focused on the ongoing resource war and geo-strategic checkmating on the larger Tibetan plateau between Xi Jinping’s China and Narendra Modi’s India

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Biswajit Roy
Biswajit Roy
is Consultant Editor with eNewsroom India. He reports on major news developments as well as writes political pieces on national and Bengal politics and social-cultural issues.

The world’s longest territorial dispute on the Himalayas could have been nipped in the bud if Mao Zedong and Jawaharlal Nehru, the helmsmen of post-independence China and India had managed to swallow their national and personal prides in the larger interests of our region as well as post-WW II global south. Both Mao and Nehru thought that the centre of the world would shift from Europe to Asia after 1945. But both the leaders felt that their lands and realms should be the new rallying point for postcolonial nations.

The tragic Indo-China rivalry over the highest frontiers as well as the leadership of Non-Aligned Movement during the Cold War was one of the major factors behind the miscarriage of millions’ dreams in search of an egalitarian home and just world. Unfortunately, both leaders succumbed to the lure of imperial legacies of their lands once they were in power forgetting their lofty visions of earlier years.

A fully annotated examination of their respective roles is beyond the scope of this review. But I found unmistakable signs of nostalgia for ancient imperial glory and spheres of dominance of China and India in both Mao and Nehru respectively, though not similar to Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi today. It was partly inevitable for the leaders of long subjugated countries with legitimate civilizational pride.

Nonetheless, global history is replete with the national liberation heroes across the continents who later turned into tyrants for their ethno-religious-linguistic minorities or the neighbors, in the name of congenital bonds through time and space. Zionists were not the sole examples of persecuted -turned persecutors who claimed innocence by harping on their historical victimhood. Unfortunately, both Mao and Nehru had shared the same mindset in varying degrees during their rule. Mao repressed Tibetan and Uighur political aspirations in Xinxiang militarily while Nehru sent his army against Nagas and Mizos in the eastern Himalayas who were seeking freedom from British India. Mao never promised a plebiscite to his ethnic-religious minorities in pursuance of their right to self-determination while trying to win over Dalai Lama and Muslim leaders. Nehru befriended Sheikh Abdullah to keep Jammu and Kashmir including Ladakh with India, promised a plebiscite but later reneged on it under trying conditions, both national and regional.

Tension between Mao’s Chinese Chauvinism and revolutionary impulses

Mao’s talks and writings before and after final victory of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) over Chiang-Kai-Shek forces revealed his deep longings not only for the Chinese territories like Korea, Hong Kong and Macao which were lost to Japanese and Western aggressors but also for ‘large number of states tributary to China’. The latter states were described in later editions of 1939 CPC booklet, ‘Chinese Revolution and Chinese Communist Party’ as states ‘situated around China’s borders that were formerly under her dependence’ in its imperial age. These included adjoining Tibet, Outer Mongolia, Korea and Indo-China including Annam or Vietnam as well as far off Burma, Nepal and Bhutan. Stuart R Schram has quoted both the translated texts of the CPC booklet in his book, The Political Thought of Mao Tse Tung, (now Zedong), Pelican, 1963.

Nonetheless, global history is replete with the national liberation heroes across the continents who later turned into tyrants for their ethno-religious-linguistic minorities or the neighbors, in the name of congenital bonds through time and space. Zionists were not the sole examples of persecuted -turned persecutors who claimed innocence by harping on their historical victimhood. Unfortunately, both Mao and Nehru had shared the same mindset in varying degrees during their rule. Mao repressed Tibetan and Uighur political aspirations in Xinxiang militarily while Nehru sent his army against Nagas and Mizos in the eastern Himalayas who were seeking freedom from British India. Mao never promised a plebiscite to his ethnic-religious minorities in pursuance of their right to self-determination while trying to win over Dalai Lama and Muslim leaders. Nehru befriended Sheikh Abdullah to keep Jammu and Kashmir including Ladakh with India, promised a plebiscite but later reneged on it under trying conditions, both national and regional.

The same book quoted Mao’s another early interview with Edger Snow (1936), the legendary writer of ‘Red Star over China’. Mao rightly denied that Chinese communists had been ‘fighting for an emancipated China in order to turn the country over to Moscow’ as the Western powers had complained. He made it clear that a ‘world union’ of socialist countries would be successful only if every nation had the right to enter or leave the union according to the will of its people with its sovereignty intact’. However, in the same breath, he claimed: ‘Outer Mongolian republic will automatically become a part of the Chinese Federation at its own will. The Mohammedan [Xinxiang Uighurs] and Tibetan peoples, likewise, will form autonomous republics attached to the China federation’. How could he prejudge the collective will of these frontier peoples without asking them? Clearly, his insistence for equal status with the Soviet party- state did not extend to peoples and lands which he considered parts of imperial China, hence would be added to communist China ‘automatically’.

Yes, Mao was not a doe-eyed revolutionary but a battle-hardened guerrilla supremo who needed to guard frontiers of his new-born revolutionary state against French and American imperialists in the wake of civil wars in Korea in the east and Indo-China in the south-east after WWII. But the military conquests of ethnically different and Buddhist Tibet at the south of China and Muslim East Turkestan or Xinxiang at its north-west close to the central Asia immediately after the seizure of power in 1949; on the pretext of tenuous and intermittent Chinese imperial sovereignty on these mountain lands were more chauvinistic than strategic, to say the least. Neither neighboring Soviet Union nor free India was hostile to red China at that period.

In his reply (November, 1949) to BT Ranadive, the secretary of undivided CPI who had congratulated him for the victory of Chinese revolution, Mao described Indians as ‘one of the great Asian people’. But he also stressed that India’s ‘past fate and her path to the future resembles those of China’. Even in 1936, he was confident in his reply to Snow, that when ‘Chinese revolution comes into full power, the masses of many colonial countries will follow the examples of China’. Clearly, he had a ‘model’ for the world from the beginning. The CPI under BTR had declared a short-lived armed revolt against the Nehru government in 1948 which was violently suppressed and the party was banned.

Interestingly, Mao’s Tibet campaign was heavily dependent on Nehru’s India. In the same writing in 1952, he directed his comrades to ‘establish trade relations with India and with the heartland of our country so that the standard of living of the Tibetan people will in no way fall because of our army’s presence’. He hoped that ‘India will probably agree to send grain and other goods to Tibet on the basis of exchange’, both for the consumption of Chinese army and Tibetans. He also asked his army to augment local production as well as trade to ensure supply lines ‘even if India stops sending them someday’.

Tibet imbroglio

Mao’s denouncement of British colonial skullduggery in Tibet and imposition of so-called McMahon line in the eastern Himalayas in NEFA (now Arunachal Pradesh) and the problematic of turning the imperial Indo-Tibet border into postcolonial Indo-China border were pertinent. But he ought to be more concerned about the self-determination of oppressed nationalities or ethnic minorities of former empires as his professed adherence to Leninist principles demanded.

No doubt, the institution of reincarnated Dalai Lama represented a pre-modern theocratic state in Tibet where monasteries owned land and ‘Lamaite Silons’ used commoners as serfs like the Church in the European middle age. But the military conquests to export modernity and revolutionary changes in material life in a ‘backward’ society had always been the official excuse of Western civilizing missions which later so-called Proletarian states including Soviet Russia and China couched in different lingo. This ethnocentrism was more shocking when it came from eastern communist revolutionary icons like Mao who had been fighting against imperial subjugation for long.

Even in 1952, Mao himself admitted that Chinese ‘liberation’ of Tibet was much unpopular among Tibetans. In his writing, ‘on the policies for work in Tibet, directive of the CC,CPC’, he pointed to regional party leaders that ‘conditions in Tibet is different from those in Sinkiang [Xinxiang]’ as ‘our army finds itself in a totally different minority nationality area’ where there was ‘hardly any Han’[ mainland ethnic majority] in contrast to the other ‘liberated’ territory. The party depended ‘solely on two basic policies to win the masses’ as well as ‘win over the Dalai and the majority of his top echelon’. At the same time, militarily punishing the ‘bad elements’ so that ‘Tibetan people will gradually draw closer to us’ and the ‘bad elements and Tibetan troops will not dare to rebel’.

[These and subsequent quotes are from the Selected works of Mao Zedong, Volume 5, People’s Republic of China publication, 1977 which I used to read in my student days but in a different light.]

It’s a profound irony of the history that Mao did not follow his own prescriptions despite caring for both strategic and human factors in Tibetan plateau that ends in Xinxiang. Young Dalai Lama who had fled to Nehru’s India in 1959 in his ripe years fondly recalled Mao as a father figure. He showed his interest in the emancipating appeal of Marxism to the world’s toiling masses following his initial meeting with the CPC chairman almost a decade back. But that could not ensure his return to Tibet even after he had reconciled to Chinese sovereignty. After the military suppression of the West-supported unsuccessful Khampa rebellion in Tibet in 1959, Mao did not even abide by the agreement on Tibetan autonomy, however asymmetrical and unrepresentative it was in the first place.

Interestingly, Mao’s Tibet campaign was heavily dependent on Nehru’s India. In the same writing in 1952, he directed his comrades to ‘establish trade relations with India and with the heartland of our country so that the standard of living of the Tibetan people will in no way fall because of our army’s presence’. He hoped that ‘India will probably agree to send grain and other goods to Tibet on the basis of exchange’, both for the consumption of Chinese army and Tibetans. He also asked his army to augment local production as well as trade to ensure supply lines ‘even if India stops sending them someday’.

In his Guerrilla years, Mao described China as a ‘multinational country’. In the fifties and sixties, he was facing enormous troubles at home as well as with the US and later, the USSR. He was deeply worried about encirclement inside and outside. Consequently, his revolutionary impulses often clashed with his nationalist moorings. In 1956-57, he enumerated problems of ‘ten major relationships’ in Chinese society and state including those between the mainland Han majority and 55 ethno-religious minorities, primarily, Tibetans and Uighurs in the periphery. He also stressed on ‘correct handling of the contradictions among people’.

In these writings, he pointed to the peculiarity of China’s minority ethnic nationalities. “Although they constitute only 6 per cent of the total population, they inhabit extensive regions which comprise 50 to 60 per cent of China’s total area.” He wanted his party-state to combat the majority ‘Han Chauvinism and local-nationality chauvinism’. Noting that ‘in the Soviet Union, the relationship between the Russian nationality and minority nationalities is very abnormal,’ he wanted Chinese party-state to ‘draw lessons’.

More germane to today’s ongoing resource wars, Mao reminded: “ The air in the atmosphere, the forests on the earth and the riches under the soil are all important factors needed for building socialism, but no material factor can be exploited and utilized without the human factor’’.

It’s a profound irony of the history that Mao did not follow his own prescriptions despite caring for both strategic and human factors in Tibetan plateau that ends in Xinxiang. Young Dalai Lama who had fled to Nehru’s India in 1959 in his ripe years fondly recalled Mao as a father figure. He showed his interest in the emancipating appeal of Marxism to the world’s toiling masses following his initial meeting with the CPC chairman almost a decade back. But that could not ensure his return to Tibet even after he had reconciled to Chinese sovereignty. After the military suppression of the West-supported unsuccessful Khampa rebellion in Tibet in 1959, Mao did not even abide by the agreement on Tibetan autonomy, however asymmetrical and unrepresentative it was in the first place.

Biswajit Roy
Biswajit Roy
is Consultant Editor with eNewsroom India. He reports on major news developments as well as writes political pieces on national and Bengal politics and social-cultural issues.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Dear Mr Biswajit Roy,

    If auntie had baxxs, she would be uncle. What kind of utter nonsense do you write and who told you these things? Were you there or are you merely reading up things here and there and adding some spices to miseducate the young who as it is have no clue of anything.

    You too seem to be of that ilk. There used to be an old saying, those who can do; those who cant teach and now one can add those who know nothing reprt.

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